Ask FCM Travel Solutions Malta CEO Karl Schranz how he describes the role of a CEO, and he will liken it to that of a football manager.
“It’s all about making sure your team functions to the best of its abilities,” he smiles. “As CEO you must be in a position to make the right substitutions at the right time if you need to, so as to realign your company strategy. It all comes down to empathy, guidance and direction because, as CEO, you are still human and your team must look up to you. Plus, as a football manager, you have to be able to shoulder responsibility in challenging situations – often when your input isn’t quite as openly appreciated as it would be during the good times.”
Clearly this is an analogy that has served Karl well as he has risen through the ranks of business, and specifically through a variety of roles within the travel sector. Before moving into his current role, he occupied various commercial positions with Corinthia Group Malta over a 10-year period, primarily as Director of Sales and Marketing at the Corinthia Palace Hotel and Spa, and then Director of Sales for the company’s centralised sales office.
“I got involved in this organisation just over three years ago, when I met with Kenneth De Martino, who is one of the company Board members today,” Karl explains. “What struck me most back then was his vision for the company; he acknowledged that there were challenges ahead, but knew the way forward all the same and insisted that partnering up with the right players in the trade was crucial. Three years later he has certainly been proven right on both points.”
It was 2015 when Karl joined KDM Travel (the company now known as FCM Travel), back when it was a much smaller organisation, with just 10 employees. Three years later, through the merger of KDM, EC and Howards Travel, the company is now the largest travel management organisation on the island, with a team of more than 50 employees, all operating under the global FCM Travel Solutions brand.
“I can’t deny that it hasn’t been an easy three years, because merging three companies is no walk in the park,” Karl continues. “But we have a very strong Board of Directors consisting of Mr De Martino, Michael Gatt and Edward Papps, as well as a dynamic management team and a number of highly-experienced travel specialists.
“We’ve come a long way and, while our main area of specialisation is still business travel for corporate organisations, we are now in a much stronger position to further offer a more personalised service. We guarantee companies better efficiencies and accountability on their travel expenditure in the long run.”
Karl explains that he revolves every CEO decision – regardless of its significance – around the key factors of human resources and strategic vision. “This has an impact on our clients and our brand identity, and has repercussions for our bottom line,” he says. “They are all within my control and it’s up to me to ensure they are all on-track and heading in the right direction.”
And his is a role that involves myriad tasks, ranging from monitoring FCM’s operation, to having regular meetings with the team to ensure effective communication, and to keep his staff empowered and motivated. “I also make it a point to find time to read and research, so that I can stay on the pulse of what’s available on the market and to be a step ahead of the competition.”
He explains that there are many aspects of the job that he loves, but that he is especially passionate about business development. “I am keen to ensure we are constantly on-track, so that we can achieve our pre-set company objectives,” he explains. “But I also get huge satisfaction from identifying talent and developing people who want to advance in their careers.”
But even in the dynamic world of tourism there are challenges, and Karl underlines quite how difficult it can be to find good people to work for the company. “As a sector, we have some very specialised technical requirements, so human resources are always a headache.”
When it comes to the future of the sector, Karl believes things are at a very interesting point, with lots of technological solutions within the company’s reach that could be exploited, and which could offer greater value to clients, especially in terms of savings and comfort.
“We are studying some very thought-provoking options and I am confident that we will be in a position to provide some of our existing and prospective clients with amazing technological tools in the near future.”
One other challenge Karl faces is the general misconception that it pays for companies to handle all their travel arrangements online, and book through some of the common meta search engines.
“This is definitely not the case, as we guarantee savings in the long run though the experience and consultation of our travel consultants, as well as through the key relationships we have in place, and the economies of scale,” he says.
And to underline that, Karl says the company has a few interesting projects in the pipeline. One of his key focuses, however, is ensuring there is a long-term plan in place and that all the company’s synergies are focused towards the objectives. “Whether it’s the Board, management or the team, we know where we are now, and where we want to be in five years’ time.”
“As for me, I see myself using all my energy and resources to ensure that the company remains the market leader in the corporate travel market, and at the very forefront of the sector. I also see us expanding into other areas that aren’t just travel-related, so that we can bring even more to the market. Finally – and despite our growth and expansion plans – I plan to retain the fantastic company culture that exists here, by focusing on the empowerment, motivation and well-being of our team.”
MaltaChamber.org.mt is proud to be serialising MaltaCEOs 2019, a high-profile publication consisting of 50 in-depth interviews with leading CEOs in Malta. Celebrating the most influential business minds in the country, two different interviews will be featured on this business news portal week by week. MaltaCEOs was created by Content House Group in collaboration with the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise & Industry.